How to frame your artwork

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As a member of a few art groups I have had a quite a few conversations with fellow artists about framing the artwork they have made. I have also had many conversations with people who have bought unframed works, so I thought I would share my thoughts on framing with you, too.

I know that in the current financial climate many people visiting art exhibitions (now that these have started again) are spending more on unframed work simply because it’s cheaper and that is totally understandable. So, having been to an art fair, exhibition, gallery or simply found a piece of art which you love, it is likely that your beautiful purchase is wrapped in cellophane or bubble wrap. It’s all very exciting, but what now?

You could take it to your local framers. There are plenty around and most can give you great advice on what to do but be warned. They are not all great. Some are likely to just push you towards the highest priced frame with the most expensive non-reflective glass, with little thought for how it would suit your home, so ask around before going down this route. If you are local to me in Surrey, there are a couple of framers who I would highly recommend and a few that I wouldn’t.

Another option is to frame it yourself. There are lots of stores around that sell frames but please do not use a frame that you don’t love. Why not? Well, you have just spent good money on your art so why cheapen it by putting something you love into a rubbish frame? In the long term you will regret it and it will undervalue the artwork itself.

So, what should you consider? If you are framing originals or prints on paper, first you will need to think about the matting which surrounds the work. For those of who aren’t artists or are just starting out, mats (sometimes mattes, or mounts) are thin, flat pieces of material usually attached to picture frames or sold separately. They serve two purposes: decoratively enhancing your art or separating your artwork from the glass. Most pieces you would find in a browser (one of those racks where unframed prints are displayed) are already matted and wrapped but you should double check that that the matting is acid-free. It needs to be acid-free to avoid damaging your beautiful artwork. Don’t skip this, as matting your artwork provides a margin between the artwork and the frame which is calming and allows the work to really shine. That said, some people prefer not to use matting or mount, and, in the end, you have to be happy with the final look, so you decide what works best for you and your home.  

Works on paper generally need to be protected with glass and here you need to consider where you are going to be hanging the work before you get it framed.  If it is going to be in a fairly sunny position, you will really need to consider glass with UV protection to stop the work from fading. This kind of glass doesn’t come cheap.

If your new artwork is on canvas, there are a couple of options depending on the type of canvas the artist has used. A thin one can be framed with a canvas surround, like matting, between the canvas and the frame. Wider frames probably don’t need this and with a thick wrapped canvas or box canvas, it is probably best mounted into a floater frame, if you decide you want a frame. Personally, I like to see the edges of a box canvas. There is a kind of story all of its own depending on how the artist finishes the edging.

These days you can get frames from all manner of different outlets. Supermarkets tend to have some great quality small frames and home decorating stores generally have a good larger range, so take a look in IKEA, B&Q, and department stores not forgetting also to check out antique shops, second hand shops and charity shops. For my American followers, I am talking about chains such as Meijer’s, Walmart, Home Depot, Macy’s etc., together with vintage, thrift, and resale stores. Second hand/charity stores often have an abundance of frames, usually with horrible prints in, so simply remove the work and replace with your artwork instead. Sadly though most stores these days don’t use glass. I am not a fan of the plexiglass they use instead. It is simply plastic, and not only does it scratch easily, but also, I don’t want to add to the use of plastics wherever possible, and glass is recyclable.  

The style of the frame needs to fit in with the style of your home. It’s likely that the style of your home will probably be similar to the style of paintings you enjoy. Modern colourful artworks tend to look best with simple monotone frames with as little fuss as possible so as not to distract from the art. The likelihood is that if you like modern art, the style of your house will tend to be modern too.  

On the other hand, if your home is classical with patterned wall coverings and chintz fabrics, then beautiful, old-style gold frames, many of which are works of art in their own right, will sit better in it. You can often find these beautiful frames in charity, second hand or antique shops. If you decide to use these kinds of frames you really will need to consider having a canvas mount between the actual canvas and the frame. Depending on the painting, of course, you need to have a resting space between the artwork and the frame.

How to pick the best frames for your artwork

At the end of the day, hopefully the work is going to be on your wall for some time, so you need to think almost as much about the framing as you do about the art itself.

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